Monday, May 09, 2011

Almost Getting It Right

Apparently the publishers of Der Zeitung have issued an apology of sorts. It was to the White House for photoshopping Secretary of State Clinton and Counterterrorism Director Audrey Tomasonm out of the now famous picture of the administration in the Situation Room during the raid on Bin Laden. The statement is avaialble at VIN.

There has been much criticism of this in the media including my own. I’m glad to see an apology written and I applaud them for it. It was a well written and well intentioned. But there are nonetheless a couple of things that are a bit troubling about it.

In all the stories I have seen about this I have not seen anyone accusing them of denigrating women. No one has said that this was their motive. Yet this is what they claim – calling it malicious slander and libel. Although it was not flattering to Judaism to point out the absurdity of calling these pictures immodest - the stories I have seen all pointed out the religious motivation behind this. I saw nothing about denigrating women. But I suppose there could have been some publications that may have made that charge. Or perhaps some of the commentary was along those lines. So I will give them the benefit of the doubt.

They also said they did not see the fine print by the White House prohibiting the alteration of that photo. They said that they would not have photo-shopped the picture if they had seen it. Again I will take them at their word. And I’m sure the White House – if it is even on their radar – would accept their apology.

But I have to take issue with their stated reasons. They said they are guided by a rabbinic board. I'm sure that's true. But they also claimed a religious prohibition against the publication of women for reasons of modesty. And that that this was their reason for removing the Secretary of State and the Counterterrorism Director from the picture. The problem is that there is no such religious prohibition in Jewish law.

It is just a stringency insisted upon by their particular rabbinic board. I don’t dispute their right to have such stringencies even though I disagree with them. But they are not Halacha and should not be characterized that way. If it is Halacha - to paraphrase Dr. Yitzchak Levine - I’d like to see the written Teshuva on it. I don’t think there is one. I think they know that it is just a Chasidic Chumra albeit a strongly held one. They need to be clear about it and not give the impression that there is a law in Judaism that actually forbids publication of a picture of a modestly dressed woman.

By being unclear they mislead the public and cause a disservice to those Orthodox Jewish newspapers who do publish pictures of women. It leaves the impression that other Orthodox publications violate Jewish law. It behooves them to clarify and correct this misimpression.